Radio Free Sarawak and Sarawak Report have informed the world of Taibâs neglect of his own people.
Taib Mahmud will be celebrating 30 years as Sarawakâs Chief Minister on March 28. Although he expressed a desire to quit politics, he was apparently persuaded by other leaders of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera to continue for the foreseeable future.
Taib governed Sarawak with an iron fist and for four decades, he opened up large tracts of land to be exploited first, for logging, and later for oil palm cultivation. With vast areas being controlled by companies connected to Taib, the indigenous people were relocated to areas which were unable to sustain their way of life.
Although Sarawak is blessed with mineral wealth and has, for over a hundred years been a major producer of oil and gas, very little of the oil money has reached the average citizen.
On the other hand, Taibâs family has become fabulously wealthy, not from hard work or creative business skills. They became obscenely rich from the corrupt exploitation of government office, by abusing Taibâs position as Chief Minister and by diverting the monies derived from Sarawakâs natural resources.
This is the culture of corruption that Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder of Radio Free Sarawak and the author of the Sarawak Report blog is trying to expose. Last week, she and Peter John Jaban, Sarawakâs own freedom fighter, have both vowed to expose Taibâs alleged corruption and hence remove him from power.
In the days after these two went public in London, Clare shot back at Barisan Nasional who said her radio broadcasts were illegal. They accused her of trying to overthrow Taib and of trying to stir up trouble in Sarawak.
Clare is aware that she has a powerful weapon in the form of the RFS and SR websites. Another secret weapon is the Iban, Peter John Jaban, a broadcaster who once worked for a radio station in Sarawak which was controlled by Taib.
Together, they make a formidable duo. Both were born in Sarawak. Both have a deep love and affection for the country and its people. Both have seen the destruction of the rainforest and witnessed a degradation of the lives of the indigenous population.
Their combined aim, using RFS and SR, is to broadcast and inform the people of Sarawak and Malaysia, how Taib is abusing the trust placed in him as the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
Platform for voices
But just as important is their ability to listen to the people. They do this by airing the concerns of the people who contact them and tell them interesting and important information, which may not be common knowledge or which the authorities may want suppressed. In other words, RFS is a platform for their voices to be heard.
People from longhouses across Sarawak tell RFS about the land grab issues, their poverty, their lack of medical facilities and the lack of concern shown by the authorities towards their general well-being.
Their stories are the ones we, in the wider world, rarely get to hear about. They tell of harrowing stories of maternal deaths from lack of medical intervention, or of children having skin diseases from bathing in contaminated water sources, or of being stranded when bridges get washed away in floods and heavy rains.
With a voice provided by RFS, villagers who thought they were suffering in isolation, are now able to share with others, the same concerns and issues and hence get assistance from people who are able to help.
No wonder Taib is scared. Clare and Peter have in a few months, been able to connect rural and distant communities and put them together by sharing many things. These people find they have the same hopes and aspirations and more important, they have a common bond. More importantly, RFS and SR have informed the world of Taibâs neglect of his own people.
For four decades of rule, Taib increased his powerbase by dividing the people and by keeping them ignorant and isolated.
Taib had billions which he siphoned out of the country for his own use unlike Clare, who had a few thousand dollars start-up capital to initiate the radio broadcast to Sarawak, to help inform the Sarawak people.
Unlike the people of the longhouses who are willing and ready to be interviewed by RFS, those who fear being interviewed are the BN politicians. Clare said, âBN politicians are not used to being interviewed by a free press âŚ.They are afreaid of being asked embarrassing questions about athings they shoulndât have done.â
Dirty propaganda war
In the days following going public, both the RFS and SR website have seen a surge of 50% more viewers, or an increase from 20,000 hits a day, to 30,000 hits.
The increased popularity seen by RFS and SR does not mean it should slow down.
Both BN and Taib are desperate. Already the dirty propaganda war has started and steps are being taken to undermine both RFS and SR.
Sarawak BN youth chief Fadillah Yusof said they would be forming a legal team to study the RFSâs contents to see if it breached Malaysian laws.
âIf they do, weâll lodge a police report against them and we want relevant agencies to take action,â said Fadillah.
A variety of protest marches against Taibâs corrupt rule have been organised in UK, Canada and America. The first of these kicked off in London last Monday.
Incredibly, Umno diehards claimed that the people who attended the London march were paid ÂŁ100 each, to take part. Perhaps, Umno supporters have inadvertently revealed how they managed to get coachloads of people to turn up at their ceramahs, which in the past, have been known to fill up stadiums. Paid audiences are alleged to have been given between RM20-30 each to attend.
The interest generated by RFS and SR is increasing. Sarawakians are keen to have their voices heard, just as BN and Taib would like to see them silenced.
Now that the state elections are approaching, the immediate priority for Clare and Peter is to keep up the pressure on Taib with more revelations about his hidden assets.
âSarawak needs a free and open society, where the press is allowed to flourish and to question and criticise politicians. We know from experience, that this makes our society stronger and it is the best check on political corruption. It also makes each individual in our society safer and more valued by those politicians who need their votes,â said Clare.
Mariam Mokhtar is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.